Koreans and Objectification

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Koreans and Objectification

Kaitlin Lee, Staff Writer

I just got a haircut, chopping off my long locks and leaving a boyish pixie cut instead. Everyone seemed to like it. My friend took a special interest in it. 

“You look like Jung-Kook!” he exclaimed. 

I paused. My friend said the name with such certainty, but I’m always unfortunately behind on popular culture. I asked him who Jung-Kook was. 

“You know, that guy from BTS! Come on, you’re Korean, you don’t know what BTS is?”

He explained to me that BTS is a Korean pop band that has taken the Western world like wildfire. This band is one of the newest fads from South Korea to suddenly rise in popularity in the U.S., following the emergence of well-known K-dramas like Goblin. 

I suppose that for a Korean American, the sudden surge in appeal of Korean culture is a blessing. There’s a greater appreciation for the culture as a whole, and more curiosity surrounding Korea. Even with recent nuclear threats and political chaos, South Korea continues to be the 22nd most visited country in the world. And bands like BTS and Blackpink have reached greater international fame than any other Korean bands before. 

However, there is a plasticity to the attention. Not a plasticity that means “malleable,” but rather plasticity like “Barbie dolls”. American consumers are mostly concerned with only the attractive Kpop or Kdrama stars, the delicious barbeque, and facial care. Because of that, they perceive South Korea to be reflective of these good aspects. But the result of this Korea-craze that I was most affected by was the sudden fascination with the Korean person; the idea that Korean-Americans were all like the characters in K-Dramasbeautiful and stylish. 

One time, a different friend said to me, “I think Koreans are so cute!”

“Really?” I asked, already uncomfortable.

“Yeah! You guys have such cute faces and cute voicesyou’re just so cute!”

Have you met my mother when she’s enraged? She is not cute. 

I know that I am not alone in this. My sister constantly was asked if she could be called “eonni”, a Korean term for a very close female friend. I still remember her fuming at dinner. “Stop asking me if you can call me ‘eonni!’ I am not your ‘eonni’, I’m just your friend!” 

I’d like for any Kpop or Kdrama fan to actually step into Korea. Not Seoul, not Gangnam, but the Korea I know. The Korea I know can be as smelly as fish markets filled with people beckoning me to come look at their wares. The Korea I know can be as small as an apartment with twelve people crammed in. The Korea I know can be as invasive as the saunas where everyone’s butt naked. 

I mean the Korea that went through colonization and conquest ever since it was formed. I mean the Korea that was brutally destroyed and ravaged by Imperialist Japan. I mean the Korea that fractured into two, separated by a line at the 38th parallel. I mean the Korea that started as one of the most impoverished countries in the world but rose in power into the corporate megalodon it is. 

That is the Korea I know. That is the Korea that I align myself with. Not the sugar-coated fantasy that Americans consume. Not that fantasy is bad per se, but you can’t have your cake without knowing there were actual people behind it. 

So no: I don’t think I look like Jung-Kook. Jung-Kook is his own being, but I am definitely not a Korean pop star. I am not cute. I am not your “eonni”. I am me, and that is all.


Photo courtesy of  TRVLMRK.COM